For evan­gel­i­cals, a tun­nel at the end of the light

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Michael Gerso

— Among the dis­ap­point­ments of the 2016 elec­tion, the close iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of many evan­gel­i­cals with a right-wing pop­ulism has been the most per­son­ally dif­fi­cult. On Elec­tion Day, it was dis­turb­ing to see so many of my tribe in Don­ald Trump’s war paint.

The most en­thu­si­as­tic Trump evan­gel­i­cals have taken the ex­cesses of the Re­li­gious Right in the 1980s not as a warn­ing but as a play­book. In this political sea­son they of­ten acted more like an in­ter­est group seek­ing pro­tec­tion and fa­vor than a voice of con­science. They blessed an agenda that tar­geted mi­nori­ties and refugees. They em­ployed apoc­a­lyp­tic rhetoric as a get-out-the-vote tech­nique. And they hitched the rep­u­ta­tion of their re­li­gious tra-

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di­tion to a skit­tish horse near a precipice.

As a cit­i­zen, I hope that the faith many evan­gel­i­cals have placed in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is jus­ti­fied. As a com­men­ta­tor, I ex­pect a tun­nel at the end of the light.

It is part of my job to have strong opin­ions on pub­lic mat­ters. But lately I have been con­scious of a cer­tain, un­wel­come symmetry. When it comes to Trump evan­gel­i­cals, I have found my­self an­gry at how they have en­dorsed the pol­i­tics of anger; bit­ter about the bit­ter political spirit they have en­cour­aged; feel­ing a bit hyp­o­crit­i­cal in my zeal to point out their hypocrisy. A dark mood has led to anx­ious­ness and harsh­ness.

This is the mor­tal risk of pol­i­tics: to be­come what you con­demn. It is not lim­ited to one side of our cul­tural and political di­vide. Re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives, for ex­am­ple, are typ­i­cally at­tacked by lib­er­als for be­ing preachy and sanc­ti­mo­nious. But tel­e­van­ge­lists have noth­ing to teach the cast of Hamilton.

In my case, I know — in calmer and clearer mo­ments — that an at­ti­tude of fum­ing, prickly anx­i­ety is for­eign to my faith, for a cou­ple of rea­sons.

First, Chris­tian be­lief rel­a­tivizes pol­i­tics. The pur­suit of so­cial jus­tice and the main­te­nance of pub­lic or­der are vi­tal work. But these tasks are tem­po­rary, and, in an ul­ti­mate sense, sec­ondary. If Chris­tian­ity is true, C.S. Lewis noted, then “the in­di­vid­ual per­son will out­live the uni­verse.” All our anger and worry about pol­i­tics should not blind us to the pri­or­ity and value of the hu­man be­ings placed in our lives, what­ever their back­ground or be­liefs.

Chris­tian­ity teaches that ev­ery­one bro­ken, sick, and lonely — ev­ery­one be­neath our no­tice or be­neath our con­tempt — is, some­how, Christ among us. “He is dis­guised un­der ev­ery type of hu­man­ity that treads the earth,” said Dorothy Day. I sus­pect this also ap­plies to Trump sup­port­ers — or never-Trumpers, de­pend­ing on your political pro­cliv­ity. “Those peo­ple” are also “our peo­ple.” We show ci­vil­ity and re­spect, not be­cause the men and women who share our path al­ways de­serve it or re­turn it, but be­cause they bear a di­vine im­age that can never be com­pletely erased. No change of pres­i­dent or shift in the com­po­si­tion of the Supreme Court can result in the re­peal of the Golden Rule.

Sec­ond, Chris­tians are in­structed not to be anx­ious — “take no thought for to­mor­row” — be­cause they can trust in a benev­o­lent pur­pose be­hind events. This may, of course, be a delu­sion, though it would be a mass delu­sion af­fect­ing most of hu­man­ity through most of history. If the athe­ists are cor­rect, the uni­verse is vast, cold and silent, in­dif­fer­ent to the lives and dreams of jumped-up pri­mates crawl­ing on an un­re­mark­able blue ball, des­tined for de­struc­tion by a dying sun — a prospect that may be even worse than a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

If Chris­tians are cor­rect, that blue ball was touched by God in a man­ner and form that Homo sapi­ens might un­der­stand. And the vast, cold uni­verse is re­ally a shel­ter­ing sky.

Days away from the start of Ad­vent, many Chris­tians are be­gin­ning their spir­i­tual prepa­ra­tion for God’s im­plau­si­ble in­ter­ven­tion. Ad­vent is a sea­son, wrote Di­et­rich Bon­ho­ef­fer from his prison cell, “in which one waits, hopes, does var­i­ous unessen­tial things, and is com­pletely de­pen­dent on the fact that the door of free­dom has to be opened from the out­side.” For be­liev­ers, Christ­mas cul­mi­nates the re­mark­able story of a God who searches for us. The only ad­e­quate re­sponses are still­ness, grat­i­tude and trust.

Af­ter a dis­mal and di­vi­sive cam­paign sea­son, many of us need the timely re­minders of the Ad­vent sea­son: That peo­ple mat­ter more than all our political cer­tain­ties. That God is in con­trol, de­spite our best ef­forts. And that some con­flicts can’t be won by force or votes — only by grace.

Michael Ger­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Contact him at michael­ger­son@wash­post.com.

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